A Missed Opportunity

The death of Lauren Bacall at the age of eighty-nine was to me the end of an era where the dazzling film icon created a new style of sexual equality and allure to the Hollywood cinema of the 1940s.

She hit the big screen by playing the leading lady in four of Humphrey Bogart’s most memorable films. The couple fell in love while making Howard Hawks’s To Have and Have Not in 1944, and were married two years later, by the time they had made The Big Sleep, in 1946.

Tall, slim and sultry with a hypnotic hoarse voice and a cryptic personality, she made the perfect match for Bogart’s rugged cynicism. Although their marriage had a tempestuous tinge to it, they remained together and in love until the end, with Bogart’s death in 1957.

In the spring of 1991, the Asprey group of which I was the CEO embarked on the acquisition of the famous jewellery establishment of René Boivin, in Paris, a company that had achieved international fame and recognition for its innovative and beautiful designs embellished by gems of rare quality.

The pioneering work done by René Boivin was abruptly curtailed by his death in1917. His wife, Jeanne, then took the courageous decision to continue her husband’s work. To assist her in the task she created a ‘women’s workshop’ by taking on Suzanne Belperron, Juliette Mutard and later, her own daughter, Germaine Boivin. Masquerading as a male concern, they went on to create some of the masterpieces of twentieth-century jewellery making.

Jeanne had a less stereotypical image of women than other jewellers of the time, neither doll-like nor masculine, but more natural and relaxed and the individual taste of Boivin’s clientele, which came to include the Duchess of Windsor, Lady Diana Cooper and a whole host of actresses, also influenced the design. Jacques Bernard, the proprietor since 1970 and at the time of the takeover by Asprey, continued to uphold the inimitable Boivin style of the house while designing new pieces for the modern woman.

It was then that he formed a special relationship with Lauren Bacall, whose patronage of the house was to bring him a great deal of prestige. Jacques often talked to me about his regular visits to New York to see the actress and show her his latest creations before they were put on the market and how thrilled he had always been to be in her company.

Needless to say, she was his client par excellence for she had a very good eye for exquisitely crafted pieces that in her view would remain in vogue throughout the years and consequently augment in value. In those heady days, I was engrossed in a variety of ventures which included amongst other things interviewing women of merit for a series of books I was publishing. How she escaped my net then, I find unforgivable today.

I missed a great opportunity to meet a formidable lady with a sizzling encounter that would have defined her many attributes at close quarters. Perhaps, though, the intrigue served me well in the circumstances.

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